Protest grows over proposed siting of new Durham County Council headquarters

The Sands car park is the proposed site for a new 50million headquarters for Durham County Council.
The Sands car park is the proposed site for a new 50million headquarters for Durham County Council.
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Opposition is growing to a plan to move Durham County Council's headquarters to a prime city centre site.

Protesters packed out the council chamber at the authority's current County Hall base for a meeting on Tuesday which rubber-stamped the decision.

The existing Durham County Council headquarters at County Hall.

The existing Durham County Council headquarters at County Hall.

But they were forced to leave disappointed as members of the County Planning Committee narrowly voted in favour of the plans by an 8-6 margin.

Objections to the scheme, which is set to see £50million offices built on the site of the Sands car park, focused on the impact on traffic, as well as tourism and traders in the city centre.

There were also calls for the county council to seek a new site from those who said they accepted the need for a new HQ to replace the ageing County Hall.

Coun John Clare, who backed the plans, told the meeting: “I’ve heard people say this is the right move, but the wrong place.

“We’re not here to say this would be better in a different place, we’re here to say here is an application, does it fly or does it not?”

But within hours of the proposed move being approved, an online petition was started asking James Brokenshire, the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, to 'call in' the planning application.

Related: Plans for new council headquarters formally submitted
The Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government This means he would take the application, rather than letting the local authority decide.

This would will normally only happen if the application conflicts with national policy in important ways, or is nationally significant.

Poppy Solari from the No Sands HQ group started the change.org petition, which already has more than 1,500 signatures.

It says: "We the undersigned do not have faith that Durham County Council’s approval of the planning application was objective, open, and transparent.

"It is a matter of national importance that decision-making by public bodies must be objective, open, and transparent, and must be seen to be so. This is decidedly not the case here.

"We therefore urge the Secretary of State to call this planning application in for his own determination.

"The planning application is for a new HQ for Durham County Council on a site chosen by the County Council to a specification set by the County Council, and shaped by intensive discussion with the planning officers of the County Council.

"Therefore it is very difficult to believe that the County Council’s planning committee could have reached an objective and unbiased decision."